The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Black Junior Faculty
How do some Black junior faculty manage to successfully negotiate academic life? From my observation, they tend to have several things in common. First, highly successful Black junior faculty learn the expectations for promotion. Whether this information is provided directly (“We want a book and four articles for tenure; here’s a list of acceptable journals”) or they have to perform reconnaissance (“Tell me, Herr Chair, what have been the research and teaching profiles of your most recent tenure candidates?”), they learn the rules of engagement.
Second, they learn how to say “no” early and often and protect their time for research by getting the most manageable teaching load possible. These are the faculty that negotiate a 2-2 teaching load, as well as a reduced teaching load in their first year (even if they do a post-doctoral fellowship). Barring that, they try to teach multiple sections of the same course. They also teach on the same days of the week. In any case, they secure a cap on the number of new courses they teach prior to tenure.
Third, highly successful Black junior faculty actively work to improve their teaching and ensure that several forms of assessment are used to evaluate their instruction. They not only monitor and respond to student evaluations, but take concrete steps, like attending faculty development and teaching workshops, to hone their teaching skills and keep abreast of new pedagogical trends. They also conduct “classroom research” on their teaching effectiveness. They ensure, for instance, that they get peer reviews of their teaching. They have periodic or midterm evaluations, which they use to modify classroom instruction during the teaching term. They develop “objective” measures of student learning, like giving pre- and post-tests at the beginning and end of each term to gauge student learning.
Fourth, highly successful Black junior faculty hunt down good advice from senior and junior colleagues. They beg, borrow or steal mentors. They do not look to one person, but assemble a mixed grille of consiglieri. They ask questions, even of complete strangers, and use conferences for networking and informal mentoring.
Fifth, highly successful Black junior faculty develop a pattern of research productivity by keeping up with the literature and keeping their work IN THE MAIL. They order and read through as many journals as they can. They have concrete production goals. Some try to produce and send off one article per semester. Others have a minimum number of projects they complete each year. Others I know write in the summer, put their manuscripts in the mail in early fall, and use the school year to edit manuscripts and conduct research.
Sixth, they negotiate hard on contracts. They get salary information and set themselves up for success by having specifics about teaching loads, preparations, conference travel, moving expenses, research funds, summer stipends and course releases as part of their contracts.
Finally, they see professional success as one part of their lives. They are resilient and stay forward looking, not allowing themselves to be bogged down by past missteps in strategy. They develop community, both in their immediate surroundings and beyond, to stave off the isolation that can easily beset new Black professors, particularly in out-of-the-way places. They refuse to abandon their faith, stop exercising or eating right.
These habits will not, of course, eliminate racial harassment by students, warm a racially chilly campus climate, or reel in an errant administration. They do, however, give Black junior faculty the best chance to thrive in what is very rugged terrain.
— Dr. Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd is an assistant professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg.
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